First Advisor

Jeremy Spoon

Date of Publication

Summer 10-8-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Anthropology






Southern Paiute Indians, Traditional ecological knowledge, Singleleaf pinyon -- Nevada -- Spring Mountains National Recreation Area -- Case studies, Singleleaf pinyon -- Nevada -- Desert National Wildlife Range -- Case studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 169 pages)


Nuwuvi (Southern Paiute) have inhabited the southern Great Basin for thousands of years, and consider Nuvagantu (where snow sits) in the Spring Mountains landscape to be the locus of their creation as a people. Their ancestral territory spans parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California. My research identifies and describes the heterogeneous character of Nuwuvi ecological knowledge (NEK) of piñon-juniper woodland ecosystems within two federal protected areas (PAs) in southeastern Nevada, the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (SMNRA) and the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR), as remembered and practiced to varying degrees by 22 select Nuwuvi knowledge holders. I focus my investigation on four primary aspects of NEK. First, drawing from data obtained through ethnoecological research, I discuss how Nuwuvi ecological knowledge evolved through protracted observation and learning from past resource depletions, and adapted to various environmental and socio-economic drivers of change induced since Euro-American incursion. Second, I argue that Nuwuvi management practices operate largely within a framework of non-equilibrium ecology, marked by low to intermediate disturbances and guided by Nuwuvi conceptions of environmental health and balance. These practices favor landscape heterogeneity and patchiness, and engender ecosystem renewal, expanded ecotones, and increased biodiversity. I then consider the third and fourth aspects of NEK as two case studies that consider NEK at the individual, species, population, habitat, and landscape scales. These case studies operationalize NEK as a relevant body of knowledge and techniques conducive to collaborative resource stewardship initiatives with federal land management agency partners. In the first case study I suggest that the Great Basin piñon pines are Nuwuvi cultural keystone species (CKS), evaluating their central importance to Nuwuvi according to several criteria including number of uses, role in ritual and story, and uniqueness relative to other species. In the second case study I contend that local social institutions regulated Nuwuvi resource use in the past and in some cases continued to do so at the time of study. These local social institutions included a system of resource extraction and habitat entrance taboos that may have mitigated impacts and supported sustainable resource use and conservation. The implications of this research are that Nuwuvi ecological knowledge, disturbance-based adaptive management practices, and resource and habitat taboos are relevant to contemporary land management concerns in piñon-juniper woodlands, offering complementary approaches to adaptive management as practiced in the SMNRA and the DNWR despite divergent epistemological foundations. My research contributed to the Nuwuvi Knowledge-to-Action Project, an applied government-to-government consultation, collaborative resource stewardship, and cultural revitalization project facilitated by The Mountain Institute among seven Nuwuvi Nations, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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